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US pushes for early bilateral investment treaty

Washington: As Indo-US trade is poised to cross USD 100 billion, Washington has asked New Delhi to push up momentum on a bilateral investment treaty. "The negotiations on the treaty should be pushed up," former US Ambassador to India, Tim Roemer has suggested, saying this would open the gates to a Free Trade Agreement between the two countries in the next five years.

Declaring that the ties between the two countries has scaled new heights under the Obama Administration, Roemer said that the thriving relationship was fundamentally anchored in shared values and common interest. "We have seen India-US relationship expansion take place all over," Roemer said in a round table with a group of Indian journalists ahead of the third India-US Strategic Dialogue next week, which would be co-chaired by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and External Affairs Minister S M Krishna.

Krishna would lead a high-powered Indian delegation of at least half a dozen Cabinet rank officials for the Strategic Dialogue, which was started when Roemer was the US Ambassador to India. Roemer strongly pushed for the acceleration of negotiations on the bilateral investment treaty, which he said would pave the way for the next big-ticket item of Free Trade Agreement between India and the United States in the next five years.

Acknowledging that there were some challenges in this relationship in particular on the economic side, Roemer hoped that these challenges would be addressed next week, including problems of multi-brand retails. "We have seen historic and very important civil-nuke agreement go backward in some ways.. the parliament passing liability legislation and turn it upside down," said the former Ambassador to India, who is now the National Security Advisor to the Obama Campaign.

"I firmly believe that this relationship moving from some transactional sector agreements in the economic relationship can move to transformational trade relationship which benefits the middle class in both countries," he said. Referring to the unprecedented exchange of high-level officials between the two countries under the Obama administration, Roemer said this really "shows, displays" why this is such a critical important global relationship.

"The importance of this relationship is not only conveyed by Presidents language and his travel and his action, but also by his Cabinet, by the business community, by making countless trips over, by Secretary Clinton in moving this relationship to record level of co-operation," he said. Noting that both the countries are trying to achieve same kind of outcome on energy, Roemer said India has made significant progress on diversifying its sources of energy.

"India has been co-operative and helpful both to the United States and the world community in tightening sanctions on Iran," he said and praised India`s casting of votes against Iran at the IAEA and UN. India, he said, has reduced its dependence on Iranian oil from 16 to 10 per cent, he said. In his first major interaction with the Indian media after he left New Delhi last year, Roemer strongly refuted reports that his resignation was due to his failure to secure the multi-billion MMRCA deal for American companies.

"Professionally, it is one of the best jobs that I ever had," he said, adding that his resignation was purely due to family and personal reasons. No doubt the US was disappointed with India`s decision on the MMRCA deal, he said, arguing that US offered the best technology and price to India on this. "I think, India would be benefitted by selecting F-16 or F-18," he argued, but noted that the US does not believe that one deal makes or breaks relationship. The United States, he said, wants to work with India on the defence sector.

Identifying the civilian-nuclear agreement as a milestone that has helped shape the strategic partnership and the trust between the two countries, Roemer said that India has not taken necessary actions for its implementation. "Actually we have seen India, move backward through the liability legislation passed by the Parliament," he said, adding that India needs to take concrete steps so that US companies have a level playing field to do business in India. "India needs not to fumble it. India needs to take specific and concrete actions in this regard," he said.

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